Windows 10 Cloud ("S"?) Performance Targets Leaked

Subject: General Tech | April 22, 2017 - 12:49 PM |
Tagged: windows 10 cloud, windows 10, uwp, microsoft

The upcoming version of Windows that can only install applications from the Windows Store, Windows 10 Cloud, will be Microsoft’s latest attempt at locked-down devices, like Windows RT was back in the Windows 8.x days. The goal is to take on the Chromebook market, which is similarly locked down to Google Chrome and Google Play Store apps (although Google allows developer sideloading). To be fair to Windows 10 Cloud, it can be upgraded to Home or Pro to run Win32 applications for a fee, although that somewhat flies in the face of “streamlined, simpler experience” if you acknowledge a monetary value in unlocking the features you claim those users theoretically don’t want.

microsoft-2017-windows10cloudperfleak-wincentral.jpg

Image Credit: Windows Central

Preamble and opinion aside, it would seem that Microsoft is hoping to push OEMs into making decent devices. They are recommending a minimum specification of quad-core Celeron, 4GB of RAM, >40 Wh battery, and “fast eMMC or SSD” storage. This last note about “fast” eMMC amuses me, because it not-so-subtly telegraphs that cheap laptops, despite having technically solid state memory, don’t have a noticeably better experience than typical hard drives.

Microsoft is expected to discuss the initiative on May 2nd at their #MicrosoftEDU event.

Microsoft Converts Unreal Engine 4 to UWP

Subject: General Tech | July 27, 2016 - 08:47 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, epic games, unreal engine, unreal engine 4, ue4, uwp

The head of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, doesn't like UWP too much, at least as it exists today (and for noble reasons). He will not support the new software (app) platform unless Microsoft makes some clear changes that guarantee perpetual openness. There really isn't anything, technically or legally, to prevent Microsoft (or an entity with authority over Microsoft, like governments, activists groups who petition government, and so forth) from undoing their changes going forward. If Microsoft drops support for Win32, apart from applications that are converted using Project Centennial or something, their catalog would be tiny.

Ridiculously tiny.

SteamOS would kick its butt levels of tiny, let alone OSX, Android, and countless others.

As a result, Microsoft keeps it around, despite its unruliness. Functionality that is required by legitimate software make it difficult to prevent malware, and, even without an infection, it can make the system just get junked up over time.

microsoft-2016-uwp-logo.png

UWP, on the other hand, is slimmer, contained, and authenticated with keys. This is theoretically easier to maintain, but at the expense of user control and freedom; freedom to develop and install software anonymously and without oversight. The first iteration was with Windows RT, which was basically iOS, right down to the “you cannot ship a web browser unless it is a reskin of Internet Explorer ((replace that for Safari in iOS' case))” and “content above ESRB M and PEGI 16 are banned from the OS” levels of control.

Since then, content guidelines have increased, sideloading has been added, and so forth. That said, unlike the technical hurdles of Win32, there's nothing to prevent Microsoft from, in the future, saying “Okay, we have enough software for lock in. Sideloading is being removed in Windows 10 version 2810” or something. I doubt that the current administration wants to do this, especially executives like Phil Spencer, but their unwillingness to make it impossible to be done in the future is frustrating. This could be a few clauses in the EULA that make it easy for users to sue Microsoft if a feature is changed, and/or some chunks of code that breaks compatibility if certain openness features are removed.

Some people complain that he wasn't this concerned about iOS, but he already said that it was a bad decision in hindsight. Apple waved a shiny device around, and it took a few years for developers to think “Wait a minute, what did I just sign away?” iOS is, indeed, just as bad as UWP could turn into, if not worse.

Remember folks, once you build a tool for censorship, they will come. They may also have very different beliefs about what should be allowed or disallowed than you do. This is scary stuff, albeit based on good intentions.

That rant aside, Microsoft's Advanced Technology Group (ATG) has produced a fork of Unreal Engine 4, which builds UWP content. It is based upon Unreal Engine 4.12, and they have apparently merged changes up to version 4.12.5. This makes sense, of course, because that version is required to use Visual Studio 2015 Update 3.

If you want to make a game in Unreal Engine 4 for the UWP platform, then you might be able to use Microsoft's version. That said, it is provided without warranty, and there might be some bugs that cropped up, which Epic Games will probably not help with. I somehow doubt that Microsoft will have a dedicated team that merges all fixes going forward, and I don't think this will change Tim's mind (although concrete limitations that guarantee openness might...). Use at your own risk, I guess, especially if you don't care about potentially missing out on whatever is added for 4.13 and on (unless you add it yourself).

The fork is available on Microsoft's ATG GitHub, with lots of uppercase typing.

Adobe XD Will Apparently Be a UWP Application

Subject: General Tech | June 4, 2016 - 10:55 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, uwp, Adobe

So a company, who refuses to port its applications to Linux, is experimenting with UWP for future products. Adobe's Experience Design (XD) CC is going to arrive on Windows later this year, and a representative from Adobe claimed on Twitter that it will use Microsoft's UWP platform. Granted, we're not talking about something like Photoshop or After Effects, but rather a UX mock-up tool, sort-of along the lines of Pencil Project.

It's unclear whether UWP will be a choice.

adobe-2016-xd.jpg

The logo looks like it's laughing at us with its tongue out.

I still find UWP a concern as Microsoft, while responding to some feedback, still has some key restrictions in play that limit free sharing. Until it becomes technically (or legally) unfeasible for Microsoft to lock down the platform, there will always be the concern that they could, for instance, revoke people's ability to develop software or remove (or prevent installation) of existing software. Even if they don't want to do it themselves, someone with authority over them may just compel it, such as a government who is against encryption.

If you build it, someone will abuse it. The only thing preventing Microsoft from realizing their Windows RT vision, if they still choose to, is the popularity of Win32 applications and how incompatible they are with that framework. We, as a society, want them to remain popular enough that Microsoft cannot afford to abandon it. They want to. They hate the stigma that Windows is where viruses are. That's reasonable, but they're not just throwing out the bathwater.

As an aside: they also want a platform that is less reliant upon x86, and could be recompiled for other hardware if Intel doesn't go where Microsoft wants to be. This is kind-of ironic if you think about it.

Source: WinBeta

Podcast #399 - GTX 1080 Launch, UWP Updates, DOOM Vulkan Patch, Kaby Lake Leaks, ASUS ROG STRIX X99, and more!

Subject: General Tech | May 12, 2016 - 04:28 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, GTX 1080, galax, founders, uwp, doom, vulkan, kaby lake, EKWB, rog strix x99

PC Perspective Podcast #399 - 05/11/2016

Join us this week as we discuss the GTX 1080 Launch, UWP Updates, DOOM Vulkan Patch, Kaby Lake Leaks, ASUS ROG STRIX X99, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

This episode of the PC Perspective Podcast is sponsored by Casper!

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

Program length: 1:03:21

  1. Week in Review:
  2. AD BREAK
  3. News items of interest:
  4. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
    1. Allyn: Old retro gaming history from PlayValue
  5. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Microsoft updates Windows 10 UWP to support unlocked frame rates and G-Sync/FreeSync

Subject: Graphics Cards | May 10, 2016 - 12:11 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, vrr, variable refresh rate, uwp, microsoft, g-sync, freesync

Back in March, Microsoft's Phil Spencer addressed some of the concerns over the Unified Windows Platform and PC gaming during his keynote address at the Build Conference. He noted that MS would "plan to open up VSync off, FreeSync, and G-Sync in May" and the company would "allow modding and overlays in UWP applications" sometime further into the future. Well it appears that Microsoft is on point with the May UWP update.

According to the MS DirectX Developer Blog, a Windows 10 update being pushed out today will enable UWP to support unlocked frame rates and variable refresh rate monitors in both G-Sync and FreeSync varieties. 

windows_8_logo-redux2.png

As a direct response to your feedback, we’re excited to announce the release today of new updates to Windows 10 that make gaming even better for game developers and gamers.

Later today, Windows 10 will be updated with two key new features:

Support for AMD’s FreesyncTM and NVIDIA’s G-SYNC™ in Universal Windows Platform games and apps

Unlocked frame rate for Universal Windows Platform (UWP) games and apps

Once applications take advantage of these new features, you will be able to play your UWP games with unlocked frame rates. We expect Gears of War: UE and Forza Motorsport 6: Apex to lead the way by adding this support in the very near future.

This OS update will be gradually rolled out to all machines, but you can download it directly here.

These updates to UWP join the already great support for unlocked frame rate and AMD and NVIDIA’s technologies in Windows 10 for classic Windows (Win32) apps.

Please keep the feedback coming!

Today's update won't automatically enable these features in UWP games like Gears of War or Quantum Break, they will still need to be updated individually by the developer. MS states that Gears of War and Forza will be the first to see these changes, but there is no mention of Quantum Break here, which is a game that could DEFINITELY benefit from the love of variable refresh rate monitors. 

Microsoft describes an unlocked frame rate as thus:

Vsync refers to the ability of an application to synchronize game rendering frames with the refresh rate of the monitor. When you use a game menu to “Disable vsync”, you instruct applications to render frames out of sync with the monitor refresh. Being able to render out of sync with the monitor refresh allows the game to render as fast as the graphics card is capable (unlocked frame rate), but this also means that “tearing” will occur. Tearing occurs when part of two different frames are on the screen at the same time.

I should note that these changes do not indicate that Microsoft is going to allow UWP games to go into an exclusive full screen mode - it still believes the disadvantages of that configuration outweigh the advantages. MS wants its overlays and a user's ability to easily Alt-Tab around Windows 10 to remain. Even though MS mentions screen tearing, I don't think that non-exclusive full screen applications will exhibit tearing.

gears.jpg

Gears of War on Windows 10 is a game that could definitely use an uncapped render rate and VRR support.

Instead, what is likely occurring, as we saw with the second iteration of the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark, is that the game will have an uncapped render rate internally but that frames rendered OVER 60 FPS (or the refresh rate of the display) will not be shown. This will improve perceived latency as the game will be able to present the most up to date frame (with the most update to date input data) when the monitor is ready for a new refresh. 

UPDATE 5/10/16 @ 4:31pm: Microsoft just got back to me and said that my above statement wasn't correct. Screen tearing will be able to occur in UWP games on Windows 10 after they integrate support for today's patch. Interesting!!

For G-Sync and FreeSync users, the ability to draw to the screen at any range of render rates will offer an even further advantage of uncapped frame rates, no tearing but also, no "dropped" frames caused by running at off-ratios of a standard monitor's refresh rate.

I'm glad to see Microsoft taking these steps at a brisk pace after the feedback from the PC community early in the year. As for UWP's continued evolution, the blog post does tease that we should "expect to see some exciting developments on multiple GPUs in DirectX 12 in the near future."

Source: MSDN

DigitalFoundry Dissects Quantum Break (and I rant)

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 14, 2016 - 06:17 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, uwp, DirectX 12, dx12

At the PC Gaming Conference from last year's E3 Expo, Microsoft announced that they were looking to bring more first-party titles to Windows. They used to be one of the better PC gaming publishers, back in the Mechwarrior 4 and earlier Flight Simulator days, but they got distracted as Xbox 360 rose and Windows Vista fell.

microsoft-2016-quantumbreak-logo.jpg

Again, part of that is because they attempted to push users to Windows Vista and Games for Windows Live, holding back troubled titles like Halo 2: Vista and technologies like DirectX 10 from Windows XP, which drove users to Valve's then-small Steam platform. Epic Games was also a canary in the coalmine at that time, warning users that Microsoft was considering certification for Games for Windows Live, which threatened mod support “because Microsoft's afraid of what you might put into it”.

It's sometimes easy to conform history to fit a specific viewpoint, but it does sound... familiar.

Anyway, we're glad that Microsoft is bringing first-party content to the PC, and they are perfectly within their rights to structure it however they please. We are also within our rights to point out its flaws and ask for them to be corrected. Turns out that Quantum Break, like Gears of War before it, has some severe performance issues. Let's be clear, these will likely be fixed, and I'm glad that Microsoft didn't artificially delay the PC version to give the console an exclusive window. Also, had they delayed the PC version until it was fixed, we wouldn't have known whether it needed the time.

Still, the game apparently has issues with a 50 FPS top-end cap, on top of pacing-based stutters. One concern that I have is, because DigitalFoundry is a European publication, perhaps the 50Hz issue might be caused by their port being based on a PAL version of the game??? Despite suggesting it, I would be shocked if that were the case, but I'm just trying to figure out why anyone would create a ceiling at that specific interval. They are also seeing NVIDIA's graphics drivers frequently crash, which probably means that some areas of their DirectX 12 support are not quite what the game expects. Again, that is solvable by drivers.

It's been a shaky start for both DirectX 12 and the Windows 10 UWP platform. We'll need to keep waiting and see what happens going forward. I hope this doesn't discourage Microsoft too much, but also that they robustly fix the problems we're discussing.

Podcast #393 - HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, EVGA SC17 Notebook, UWP games and more!

Subject: General Tech | March 31, 2016 - 01:17 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, VR, htc vive, oculus rift, vive pre, evga, SC17, logitech, g900, phil spencer, uwp, asus, echelon, gtx 950, acer, Predator, z850

PC Perspective Podcast #393 - 03/31/2016

Join us this week as we discuss the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, EVGA SC17 Notebook, UWP games and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Josh Walrath

Program length: 1:37:33

  1. Week in Review:
  2. 0:45:10 This episode of PC Perspective Podcast is brought to you by Braintree. Even the best mobile app won’t work without the right payments API. That’s where the Braintree v.0 SDK comes in. One amazingly simple integration gives you every way to pay. Try out the sandbox and see for yourself at braintree­payments.com/pcper
  3. News items of interest:
  4. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
  5. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Microsoft's Phil Spencer Discusses UWP Concerns at Build

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 30, 2016 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, uwp, microsoft, build 2016, BUILD

When a platform vendor puts up restrictions, it can be scary, and with good cause. Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is the successor of WinRT, which, in the Windows 8 era, forced web browsers to be reskins of Internet Explorer, forced developers to get both their software and themselves certified before publishing, and so forth. They still allowed the traditional, more open, Win32 API, but locked them into “the Desktop App”.

Naturally, UWP carries similar concerns, which some developers (like Tim Sweeney of Epic Games) voiced publicly. It's more permissive, but in a brittle way. We don't want Microsoft, or someone like a government who has authority over them, to flip a switch and prevent individuals from developing software, ban content that some stakeholder finds offensive (like art with LGBT characters in Russia, the Middle East, or even North America), or ban entire categories of software like encryption suites or third-party web browsers.

windows_8_logo-redux2.png

This is where we get to today's announcement.

Microsoft's Phil Spencer, essentially responding to Tim Sweeney's concerns, and the PC gaming community at large, announced changes to UWP to make it more open. I haven't had too much time to think about it, and some necessary details don't translate well to a keynote segment, but we'll relay what we know. First, they plan to open up VSync off, FreeSync, and G-Sync in May. I find this kind-of odd, since Windows 10 will not receive its significant update (“Anniversary Update”) until July, I'm not sure how they would deliver this. It seems a little big for a simple Windows Update patch. I mean, they have yet to even push new versions of their Edge web browser outside of Windows 10 builds.

The second change is more interesting. Microsoft announced, albeit without dedicating a solid release date or window, to allow modding and overlays in UWP applications. This means that software will be able to, somehow, enter into UWP's process, and users will be encouraged to, somehow, access the file system of UWP applications. Currently, you need to jump through severe hoops to access the contents of Windows Store applications.

They still did not address the issue of side-loading and developing software without a certificate. Granted, you can do both of those things in Windows 10, but in a way that seems like it could be easily removed in a future build, if UWP has enough momentum and whoever runs Microsoft at the time decides to. Remember, this would not be an insidious choice by malicious people. UWP is alluring to Microsoft because it could change the “Windows gets viruses” stigma that is associated with PCs. The problem is that it can be abused, or even unintentionally harm creators and potential users.

On the other hand, they are correcting some major issues. I'm just voicing concerns.

Source: Microsoft

Podcast #390 - ASUS Z170 Sabertooth Mk1, Corsair Carbide 400C, more about Windows Store Games, and more!

Subject: General Tech | March 10, 2016 - 02:10 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, asus, z170 sabertooth, corsair, carbide 400c, Windows Store, uwp, dx12, amd, nvidia, directflip, 16.3, 364.47, 364.51, SFX, Seagate, OCP, NVMe

PC Perspective Podcast #390 - 03/10/2016

Join us this week as we discuss the ASUS Z170 Sabertooth Mk1, Corsair Carbide 400C, more about Windows Store Games, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, and Allyn Malventano

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

Author:
Manufacturer: GitHub

A start to proper testing

During all the commotion last week surrounding the release of a new Ashes of the Singularity DX12 benchmark, Microsoft's launching of the Gears of War Ultimate Edition on the Windows Store and the company's supposed desire to merge Xbox and PC gaming, a constant source of insight for me was one Andrew Lauritzen. Andrew is a graphics guru at Intel and has extensive knowledge of DirectX, rendering, engines, etc. and has always been willing to teach and educate me on areas that crop up. The entire DirectX 12 and Unified Windows Platform was definitely one such instance. 

Yesterday morning Andrew pointed me to a GitHub release for a tool called PresentMon, a small sample of code written by a colleague of Andrew's that might be the beginnings of being able to properly monitor performance of DX12 games and even UWP games.

The idea is simple and it's implementation even more simple: PresentMon monitors the Windows event tracing stack for present commands and records data about them to a CSV file. Anyone familiar with the kind of ETW data you can gather will appreciate that PresentMon culls out nearly all of the headache of data gathering by simplifying the results into application name/ID, Present call deltas and a bit more.

gears.jpg

Gears of War Ultimate Edition - the debated UWP version

The "Present" method in Windows is what produces a frame and shows it to the user. PresentMon looks at the Windows events running through the system, takes note of when those present commands are received by the OS for any given application, and records the time between them. Because this tool runs at the OS level, it can capture Present data from all kinds of APIs including DX12, DX11, OpenGL, Vulkan and more. It does have limitations though - it is read only so producing an overlay on the game/application being tested isn't possible today. (Or maybe ever in the case of UWP games.) 

What PresentMon offers us at this stage is an early look at a Fraps-like performance monitoring tool. In the same way that Fraps was looking for Present commands from Windows and recording them, PresentMon does the same thing, at a very similar point in the rendering pipeline as well. What is important and unique about PresentMon is that it is API independent and useful for all types of games and programs.

presentmonscreen.png

PresentMon at work

The first and obvious question for our readers is how this performance monitoring tool compares with Frame Rating, our FCAT-based capture benchmarking platform we have used on GPUs and CPUs for years now. To be honest, it's not the same and should not be considered an analog to it. Frame Rating and capture-based testing looks for smoothness, dropped frames and performance at the display, while Fraps and PresentMon look at performance closer to the OS level, before the graphics driver really gets the final say in things. I am still targeting for universal DX12 Frame Rating testing with exclusive full screen capable applications and expect that to be ready sooner rather than later. However, what PresentMon does give us is at least an early universal look at DX12 performance including games that are locked behind the Windows Store rules.

Continue reading our look at the new PresentMon tool!!